Aside from the brewing itself, a little DIY goes a long way when it comes to your equipment. Here’s a guide on a few items you might want to consider building yourself.
Jester Goldman 2 years ago
DIY is part of the DNA of homebrewing. Big corporate beer doesn’t taste nearly as satisfying as our own homebrew. It may not be easier, but it’s ours. Many brewers also feel that DIY is the way to go with their equipment. DIY was a necessity in the early days, but now you can find almost anything you want pre-made online or in your local homebrew shop. Just as with jeans or leather jackets, sometimes buying is your cheapest option. Despite this, the DIY ethic is alive and well.
When it comes to kitting out your custom-built brewery, there are two factors to consider before diving in. First, you need to decide whether or not you have the skills (or want to develop the skills) to take on a given project. You should also consider whether it’s cost-effective, factoring in intangibles such as the satisfaction and learning experience.
Relatively Easy Projects
Fortunately, there are quite a few potential projects that don’t require much in the way of special skills or tools. Most of these are worthwhile, even for beginners. Here are a half dozen projects that will improve your brewing or save you some effort. In upcoming articles, we’ll delve into the specifics of each of these projects, providing instructions for building your own.
Counterflow Wort Chiller
Getting your wort cooled down as quickly as possible before pitching your yeast reduces the chance that bacteria will get a foothold, so a wort chiller is the first piece of special equipment I recommend that new brewers get. Immersion chillers are easier to sanitize and use, but you can buy one for about the cost of parts. Counterflow chillers offer their own advantages in improving cold break and reducing water usage. Even better, they’re not much harder to build than immersion chillers, and you’ll save some serious cash compared to purchasing one.
Lifting and lugging full carboys is hard enough when you’re young and fit—when you’re older, it really sucks. A carboy dolly is safer and easier to move, but isn’t something you can easily make on your own. However, you can cut the tops off of surplus malt buckets from your local homebrew shop to create a carboy carrier that has the added bonus of protecting your beer from light and catching any overflow.
Cooler-based Mash Tun with a Slotted Copper Manifold
Making the move from extract to all-grain brewing calls for additional equipment. A 10-gallon cooler makes an excellent mash tun, providing insulation to hold your mash at a steady temperature. All you need to do is separate the wort from the grain. You could buy a false bottom (drilling your own is an exercise in patience), but it’s very easy to make a slotted manifold with a few copper plumbing fittings and a Dremel cutter.
Ready to make the move from extract to all-grain or upgrade your all-grain system? Want to avoid the cost of doing it wrong? CBB’s Hot Rod Your Kettles and Mash Tun class is the perfect introduction to building out your bad-ass homebrew system.
Adding a hopback to your setup allows you to introduce fresh hops aromas into your beers with the bonus of filtering out some of the trub as you run your hot wort into your wort chiller. Hopbacks are commercially available, but it’s fairly simple to make one out of a Mason jar or sealable metal canister.
Yeast starters can help your fermentation kick into immediate overdrive. At a minimum, all you need is a sanitary container and an airlock (or loose cover), but a stir plate makes the whole process much quicker and your yeast will likely be healthier and more productive. You can build one by mounting a computer fan and power supply into a small box and affixing a rare earth magnet to the fan. You’ll also need a flat-bottom glass container (a beaker would work great), and a magnetic stir bar.
Kegging saves a tremendous time over bottling, although it does require some investment in kegs, a CO2 tank, and a regulator. You can get by placing the keg inside an old fridge and using picnic taps, but a kegerator offers convenience and a professional aesthetic to impress your guests. A used chest freezer works best because it holds the cold air when you open it. You’ll also need the hardware for a draft tower and related connections, but the extra parts and effort are definitely worth it.
More Advanced Projects
As I mentioned earlier, we’ll provide instructions for all these projects in future articles. There are plenty of other projects that require more expertise, labor, and investment, such as converting beer kegs into brewpots, etching volume markers into your kettle, or constructing a brew stand for all-grain brewing. Some are not that much harder than the list above (e.g., making a temperature-controlled fermentation chamber), while others are more involved (e.g., building your own automated RIMS or HERMS brewing system). But you’re only limited by your imagination and technical abilities.
Keep a Handle on It
The humble handle is a piece of equipment you didn’t know you needed until you’ve used one.